Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum showcases the art and history of Inuit throughout place and time.
When you first arrive to Nunavut’s capital and largest community, Iqaluit, a popular first spot to see is the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. This is a convenient first place to visit because it is beside the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre, the local tourist information office. You get a colourful, detailed and historic taste of the city to help situate yourself in your new surroundings.
As well, anything you learn and see there will be useful for understanding the rest of your stay in Nunavut. Grab some maps or brochures and then step right in.
Housed in an old Hudson Bay Company trading post storage building, the museum holds a wide variety of Inuit-made art, carvings, artifacts, traditional tools and clothing, in addition to books, music and even souvenirs from the land. It has a permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits.
When I arrived to my most recent visit to Nunatta Sunakkutaangit, a not for profit organization, there was a large baleen standing up against the wall at the cash. It was somewhere between six and eight feet tall. I asked if it was for sale and, sadly, it was not. Jessica Kotierk, the museum’s curator since 2019, said she had purchased it for educational purposes but agreed that it is beautiful and would be a great home decor item.
I had interviewed Kotierk in the past while in my former Iqaluit newspaper reporter job, and had previously learned about her plans for the museum. She told me she did not have time to be interviewed or answer email questions about the museum for this specific article – despite my offer to extend the deadline or for her to answer just a few of the questions. However, she had previously told me in 2019 that her main museum plans were to focus her curation efforts more on film and technology, and that she would be responsible for coming up with plans for, and then implement, digitizing the art collection.
Without an update interview this year, I was unable to learn if much had changed at the museum since my last visit, and if or how those efforts came to fruition, nor can I tell you much of the intricate, behind-the-scenes details about any of the objects on display.
Still, I had the opportunity to visit the museum in mid-December and was able to experience the different rooms and exhibits for myself, taking pictures along the way.
Without a recent interview, as well, I will have to be your humble tour guide through these photos.
Please follow me through these pictures to immerse yourself in some of the art, tools, artifacts, jewelry and even books you’ll be able to find at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum.
When you first walk into the museum, you must take your boots off. Leave them in the foyer entrance, with rows of others’. This has been a rule for at least the last few years since the first time I visited. This practice keeps the floors clean (there is snow for most of the year here and lots of dust when it melts!) but it also makes for a more comfortable and cozy experience as a viewer.
You feel welcomed in this way, almost like you are visiting the home of a loved one.
To your left, you will find a small room where an old qajaq, or kayak, is suspended over two glass cases of other historical artifacts. You’ll find packing dolls, ulus (traditional Inuit knives most commonly used by women), various tools, traditional clothing, and carvings in the other cases inside this room.
The gift shop area, to the right of the door, near the cash counter, is where you will find several glass cases of jewelry on display, along with carved letter-openers and knives. Just against the wall, peruse the many postcards, prints and key chains, while admiring the textile art that hangs on the wall.
I bought a lovely pair of grey, ulu-shaped earrings for myself and another, more colourful, beaded pair as a Christmas gift when I visited.
Nearby, you will see various CDs of Inuit or Nunavummiut (people who live in Nunavut) musicians, and compilations from music festivals held in Nunavut. As well, you can find some books for sale by Inuit or Nunavut-based authors.
As you continue inside the museum, further to the right and toward the stairs, you will see more drawings, etchings and prints, framed and hanging on the walls.
You will also see larger carvings or statues, like the above-pictured two-headed person, as well as Arctic animals’ bones, like the walrus skull and jaw bone on display.
There is an upstairs area, with glass shelving along the walls on both sides, and with wooden benches that include design elements that seem sled-inspired. In the upstairs portion of the museum, you will find more bones and rocks, as well as ancient Thule culture artifacts, and even early snow goggles.
Students like to go upstairs to study, I was told by Kotierk when I last interviewed her. When I visited the museum this year, I saw a young man sitting and reading in that quiet space, absorbed in his book, a small smile on his face.
Whether or not you are actually a student, you will likely always feel like one at Iqaluit’s Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. It is a place where there is just so much to learn and see, to discover, remember and inspire.
All photo credits: Courtney Edgar